Budget Percentages

With the passage of the first continuing resolution, the United States federal government has spending authority until December 11, 2014.

House Joint Resolution 124 (HJR 124) allows Uncle Sam to spend money through the first quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Instead of going through all of the federal programs one by one and allocating money, HJR 124 mandates that federal programs have their spending levels set at FY14 levels.

Except, that’s not entirely true. Section 101(b) of HJR 124 says that all spending levels for FY15 will be cut by 0.0554 percent of FY14 levels.

Not 1%.

Not even 0.1%.

Congress slashed spending across the board by one-half of 0.1%.

In other words, for every $100 spent, spending has been cut by a nickel. In other other words, for every Ben Franklin bill, subtract a Thomas Jefferson coin.

How does that work in the real life of the federal government? Here are some examples.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of FY14 spending (here in PDF form), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was authorized to spend $20,880,000,000 (or $20.88 billion for those who like their numbers in words). With the ax wielded by HJR 124, the folks over at 1400 Independence Avenue SW in Washington D.C., now have $11.56 million less to spend in FY15.

The Department of Defense was authorized in FY14 to spend $572,042,000,000 ($572.042 billion…or 27.39 times more than the USDA). Courtesy of HJR 124, the Pentagon now only has $571.725 billion to work with.

And so on down the line.

According to the CBO, discretionary spending for FY14 was set at a level of $1,110,725,000,000 (or $1.110 trillion). Therefore, using a bit of math, the federal government has its FY15 spending authority cut by $615,341,650 and now can only spend $1,110,109,658,350 (or $1.110 trillion).

But how much of this cutting, hacking, and slashing of 0.0054% by Congress actually accomplished anything?

With the start of October, FY14 ended and the CBO has come out with its preliminary look at the fiscal year just passed. According to the CBO Monthly Budget Review for September 2014 (jump to the graph entitled “Total Outlays”), the federal government spent $1.608 trillion on discretionary spending ($578 billion for Defense, $1,030 billion for everything else). However, Uncle Sam spent a grand total of $1.651 trillion on only three programs ($840 billion for Social Security, $509 billion for Medicare, and $302 billion for Medicaid). That $1,651,000,000,000 of mandatory spending – or almost half of all FY14 spending – was untouched by the Congressional ax for FY15.

In fact, those three mandatory programs increased their spending. Once again, according to the CBO, Defense spending shrunk 4.9% from FY13 to FY14. In that same time period, all the other discretionary spending shrunk 2.3%. Meanwhile, over the twelve months from September 2013 to September 2014, Social Security grew 4.6%, Medicare grew 2.7%, and Medicaid grew 13.6%.

All of those figures for mandatory spedning are greater than 0.0554%


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